When you find out your own government is harvesting your phone metadata and internet activity, what do you do? If you’re Jeff Larson at ProPublica, you file a FOIA request in hopes of getting the NSA to cough up some of the info it’s collected on you.
Shortly after the Guardian and Washington Post published their Verizon and PRISM stories, I filed a freedom of information request
with the NSA seeking any personal data the agency has about me. I
didn’t expect an answer, but yesterday I received a letter signed by
Pamela Phillips, the Chief FOIA Officer at the agency (which really
freaked out my wife when she picked up our mail).
Yes, Larson received three pages of unredacted excuses and explanations as to why the NSA would not
be letting him in on what it had gathered, as well as some circuitous
explanations as to why it was unable to confirm the existence of the
data he requested.
request-by-request basis would allow our adversaries to accumulate
information and draw conclusions about the NSA’s technical capabilities,
sources, and methods. Our adversaries are likely to evaluate all public
responses related to these programs. Were we to provide positive or
negative responses to requests such as yours, our adversaries’
compilation of the information provided would reasonably be expected to
cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.”
“Reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the
national security…” That’s a beauty, as is the entire paragraph.
Instead of “Yes, we have some stuff but we can’t let you look at it,” or
“No, we don’t have your stuff, but thanks for asking,” we get “We can
neither confirm nor deny we have your stuff because a simple yes or no
would give terrorists the upper hand.” Alternately: “Sorry we can’t be
more specific. Can I offer you some fear instead?” Fortunately, as
Larson notes, he won’t be charged a fee for this non-answer to his
The NSA’s FOIA responder takes a little time to imply that the media possibly has all the facts wrong.
As you may be also be aware, there has been considerable speculation about two NSA intelligence programs in the press /media.
If by “considerable speculation,” she means “actual document leaks,”
then we’re on the right track. Yes, there’s been plenty of speculation
but there are several exposed documents that give this speculation a
solid starting point.
Read more here